The Dodgers and right-hander Joe Kelly have agreed to terms on a new deal, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford reports. The deal will be official when Kelly passes a physical. It is expected that Kelly signed a one-year contract, according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post. Los Angeles passed on a $9.5M club option on the ACES client last month, instead buying Kelly out for $1M and sending him into free agency.
This will mark Kelly’s third separate stint in Dodger Blue. The reliever first joined the team on a three-year, $25M free-agent contract during the 2018-19 offseason, and after L.A. declined a $12M club option for a fourth year of that deal, Kelly signed with the White Sox on a two-year, $17M pact. 2023 was the last guaranteed year of that deal, and with Chicago caught amid a disastrous season, the Sox moved Kelly and Lance Lynn to the Dodgers before the trade deadline.
Kelly had a 4.97 ERA over 29 innings for the White Sox before the trade, but he regained his form in his old stomping grounds with a sparking 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings over 11 appearances for the Dodgers. Since Kelly’s secondary numbers with Chicago had been far more impressive than his ERA, the Dodgers bet correctly that Kelly was due some positive course correction. For the season as a whole, Kelly posted a 4.12 ERA, 58% grounder rate, 35.7% strikeout rate, and 10.7% walk rate over 39 1/3 innings. While the walk rate is on the high side, the outstanding strikeout and grounder numbers made up for some shaky control, and Kelly’s arm is still very live at age 35, with a fastball averaging 98.9 mph.
Despite these results, Kelly’s health has been a question mark, which likely factored into the Dodgers’ decision to decline that $9.5M option. Kelly has been on the injured list eight times over the last four seasons, with three of those stints (due to forearm inflammation, elbow inflammation, and a groin strain) coming in 2023. While none of the injuries were overly serious, the cumulative IL time cost Kelly around two months of the season and creates some doubt about how well he can hold up throughout a full campaign and into what the Dodgers hope will be a deep run into the playoffs.
The bullpen was a big strength for the Dodgers last season, and reinforcing that strength is of particular import considering all of the questions L.A. is facing in the starting rotation. The Dodgers will surely add some depth and possibly even some superstar arms to the pitching staff by winter’s end, yet it helps the run prevention efforts on the whole of the relief corps has enough depth and quality to help bail out the starters. Evan Phillips will return as the closer, with Kelly joining Brusdar Graterol and Caleb Ferguson as primary setup options.